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Attracting women to senior roles needs top down leadership

by: Samantha Partington
  • 19/06/2014
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Attracting women to senior roles needs top down leadership
Female appointments to senior roles in financial services are always a talking point for the industry.

But should this still be the case? The scarcity of women applying for and being accepted for the top roles in banks, building societies and nationwide financial firms remains very real.

The issue has driven Lloyds Banking Group to set a bold target that by 2020 40% of its 8,000 senior manager posts will be held by women, currently this figure stands at 28%.

Elsewhere, diversification in the workplace or positive discrimination policies are commonplace but are they really going far enough to cater for women’s working needs?

Leading figures of the financial services industry met at the Ladies Executive Club, hosted by Lloyds Banking Group and Mortgage Solutions, to debate what more could be done to raise women above the ranks of middle management.  

Perceptions of the amount of time needed to commit to a senior position act as a deterrent to applying for many women who are capable of doing the job.

Expectations of early starts, leaving late and 24-hour accessibility are ingrained in the culture of senior management.

The Club raised two strategies for tackling this barrier to top level positions for women; make flexible working options available to senior managers and make it acceptable to choose these options without the fear of being judged ‘lazy’.

Compressed working, where employees are allowed to work longer days but shorter weeks, is a popular option at Lloyds. Breaking up the day to collect children then continuing to work when a partner returns home was another option the group agreed worked well.

In both cases advocates of the schemes said strictly observing agreed hours was key to making them work. The days off you earn through working a compressed week should not be spent answering emails or dialling in to meetings from home.

But these options presented a challenge for women who felt that if they were not present in the office to work or did not stay late they would slip off the radar of talent spotters or miss opportunities to talk to senior figures.

The consensus was that flexible options are available but women fear their careers would suffer or they may be ostracised for taking them.

High profile leaders within the company must be the champions of flexible working and promote an environment of respect for the hard work all colleagues do regardless of their work structure.

Lloyds are supporters of using a mentoring programme to help all employees achieve their career goals. Women, it was agreed by the group, tended to be less confident in their abilities. Encouragement from a mentor to apply for a senior role could offer great motivation.

But internal policies are not known to external applicants so a recruitment strategy capable of attracting a diverse group of candidates was key, but still a rarity.

Members of The Club, a network for senior women in the mortgage industry, said when they were presented with all male shortlisted candidates they were often told women have not applied – to which they responded, your advert is flawed.

If the role is not attracting diverse candidates something is wrong with the advertisement. Delegates fed back that the placement and wording of the advert may be unconsciously biased. Continuing to fish in the same talent pool, which historically has produced white male candidates, will catch more white male candidates.

Leading by example, mentoring and board level champions for diversity, it was agreed, are fundamental to making any diversity policy a success.

Behaviours will not change unless those with the power to make changes and influence culture walk the walk. The options to flexible work are already there as is the recognition that diversity at senior level is good for business. But it needs to be put into practice not left as principle. Driving this from the top down is in the only way it will gather speed.

Attendees: Esther Dijkstra, Scottish Widows, Debbie Staveley, bClear Communications, Vicky Hartley, Mortgage Solutions, Samantha Partington, Mortgage Solutions, Vanessa Owen, LV, Gemma Harle, Tenet Group, Sarah Green, formerly at Barclays, Alison Beech, Valunation, Hilary Mcvitty, Building Societies Association, Michelle Monck, Ipswich Building Society, Paula John, Your Mortgage, Mike Jones, Scottish Widows, Nikki Humpfrey, Lloyds Banking Group

 

 

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